Changing lifestyles in the built environment
As designers we are faced with an unprecedented challenge in the current housing market.
On the one, hand a debt crisis and funding shortfall resulting in stagnant economic and commercial markets and the worst downturn in 60 years. On the other a concern amongst some clients that in this challenging market they do not have the products to attract those buyers with equity to invest.
 Modern living
The demographics highlight that we are both ageing as a society whilst improvements in healthcare will mean that many of us can expect to live longer. Single occupancy living is on the increase whilst family groupings are becoming more varied and intergenerational as economic pressures are tending to make both the younger and older generations more reliant on the family home for support. Multiple-occupation is therefore becoming more common and the age of first time buyers is increasing as younger people are reliant the parental home for longer.
Most of us will spend a higher proportion of our income on housing, increasing our financial pressures, so it will become more common to take on lodgers, and to work at home to generate income and reduce spiralling travel costs.
Hence our home is becoming another area of stress in our lives, rather than a haven that supports our lifestyle of choice.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing obsolete.” R. Buchminster-Fuller
A proliferation of Makeover TV, new innovative domestic products and unprecedented media focus have combined to make us all more aware of and raise our aspirations for design quality. We need to make the best possible use of the space that we can afford and to develop smarter design solutions to help to maximise its value.
Increases in the cost of heating and cooling continue to rise, with the cost of household energy bills threatening to break the £1,500 per year barrier by 2015, and continue upwards to hit £2,766 per year by 2018 if current trends continue. This may mean that almost nine in ten households will ration their energy use, 75% will go without adequate heating and over half (55%) will turn their heating off entirely. ref Money Savings Expert.
 The Design Imperative
We need to understand more clearly our housing needs in the 21st century. More single person households, more flexibility to support alternative family patterns; the need to strengthen community bonds and encourage good neighbourliness.
We are not dealing with a set of standard client needs.
Regulation over the last 10/20 years has focused on defining decent housing standards and promoting universal accessibility and inclusivity in design. We are now, however, faced with very challenging economic circumstances which are forcing us to reconsider our needs and expectations for our homes.
 Part of a Wider Debate
The door is currently being thrown open for a new approach to legislation, lifestyle and design initiatives. For instance, the NPPF, 'with its presumption in favour of sustainable development', has fuelled the debate about alternative & renewable energy, its potential and down sides.
Current thinking about the application of Garden City principles reflects increased concern about the environment being created, as well as lifestyle issues like green living, eco diversity and local food production.
Successful housing has always been economic, essentially simple, repeatable and cost effective to produce. In re-appraising the needs of the market, we are trying to produce a product that will be relevant, realistic and therefore deliver a commercial edge for our clients. We need to be realistic in our aspirations to create value and increase sales, not to facilitate unlimited customer choice, which would only lead to increased building costs.
 Design Priorities
If we are to future proof our housing we need to take on board the following considerations:
- The occupational pressures on individual and family homes will vary with time
- Spaces should therefore be well proportioned, and flexible to use
- Services should be carefully considered to facilitate affordable adaptation in the future
- Spaces should be well lit, and ventilated and enable future sub-division
- Sensitivity to location and orientation to optimise sunlight and outlook
- Full height storage wherever possible but certainly within circulation spaces to allow flexible and communal use
- Inclusion of good, private 'alternative' space
- Avoiding over-heating and glare and create a low energy environment not overly reliant on technology
- Promoting a sustainable lifestyle
- Building-in the potential for future extension or modification at minimal the cost to residents
 A Historic Reference
Andrea Palladio, working in Venice in the 1500s did more to influence domestic architecture than any other designer by inspiring generations who developed our town houses of the Georgian and Victorian period. A much loved, yet practical example of durable and flexible housing which could be used for a wide variety of uses.
His original work was however, .... “to allow the (home) to function as a business, while at the same time providing exercise, relaxation and entertainment .... offering a haven ..... from the heat of the City” ref The Villas of Palladio, by Giovanni Giaconi. Let's hope we can do the same...
 Specific Lifestyle Design Responses
 Enabling Older People to Live Independently
As we get older we become increasingly challenged by mobility issues and sensory impairment. Close attention to the conceptual and detail design of homes can assist older people to remain independent and less reliant on care and support. The HAPPI report Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation - lists 10 practical recommendations:
- Generous / Flexible Space Standards
- Natural light (inc circulation spaces)
- Avoidance of internal corridors and single aspect dwellings for light and ventilation
- 'Care ready' homes to accommodate emerging technologies
- Circulation that avoids institutionalisation and encourages interaction
- Lively multi-purpose social spaces that link with the community
- Engagement with the street
- Energy efficient 'green' buildings
- Adequate storage inside and outside home
- Homezone design of outside spaces with pedestrian priority
 The Weekend Pad
The result of a developer competition based on analysis of lifestyles and likely buyers. This is really designed as two dwellings in one. A weekday batchelor pad, which at the weekend becomes an exciting, child friendly home.
The scheme incorporates a good mix of tenure and flat types as well as retail and community space in order to facilitate a convenient and low energy lifestyle. Local communications are good and residents have easy access to public transport. Generous cycling storage facilities and basement car parking is also provided.
The flats themselves are designed to enable flexible use, as they enjoy generous floor to ceiling heights and tall windows, evenly placed so as to not only create good natural lighting levels but also allow future sub-division of the internal spaces, dependent upon the occupant's needs. On the southern elevation, generous overhangs provide shading to help avoid the issue of over-heating.
Research involved visits to the Scandanavian countries to view new technologies that encourage a greener, lower energy lifestyle. This research included fact finding on the ENVAC waste collection system which was then incorporated into the scheme. It allows easy, no mess, recycling of rubbish and removes the need for the central courtyard to accommodate the manoeuvring of large refuse trucks with all the attendant problems associated with large areas of hard surface and bin stores.
As a result, the development wraps around an attractive green courtyard which provides a pleasant amenity that fosters communal and family activities in a safe and secure environment.
 Low Energy Living: Greenwatt Way, Slough
Greenwatt Way, one of the first UK zero carbon developments, was completed in September 2010.
This is a scheme of 10 units, a mixture of 2 & 3 bed houses and one bed flats for Scottish and Southern Energy designed and constructed as a test bed for renewable fuel/energy generation systems. It is being carefully monitored in terms of energy consumption over a two year period with residents having been selected to represent a cross section of society. It is therefore a realistic case study of living in a low energy environment.
The scheme is built partly in load-bearing masonry, and partly in timber framed construction, and incorporates three alternative green energy generation systems to test realistically their performance.
An interim report, after 12 months, has just been published to indicate how the scheme is working in terms of lifestyle and the effectiveness of the technologies. The final reports will be published on the after two years.
In order to test living in a zero carbon home and the impact on lifestyle the scheme is built around a shared communal garden defined by the housing configured in a U-shape. Each home also has a semi-private terrace. Hence residents enjoy access to large green areas for play and allotment planting, as well as having virtually private spaces available. This engenders a strong communal spirit, and thus far has been well received.
A project in South West Cambridge to masterplan and develop detailed designs at Clay Farm, an urban extension. The project combines the contemporary, exciting green, quality designs associated with Sweden with the suburban English traditions generally associated with the garden city movement or higher density Georgian squares.
Innovative house types explore a lifestyle which enables:
- Home working
- Flexible use of space
- Alternative uses within the home
- Discreet car parking
- Safe areas for play
- A variety of rooms within the house that optimise views
In short, recognising that over time a family will have different needs, and the house is designed to facilitate and accommodate a range of lifestyle choices:
At the same time the house must:
- Provide large areas of storage
- Minimise energy use
- Have the potential for energy generation
- Bring the garden into the home?
- Define new communal green spaces
- Encourage eco-diversity
This project represents a wonderful opportunity to explore tomorrow's lifestyle.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Accessibility in the built environment.
- Access and inclusion in the built environment: policy and guidance.
- Access consultant.
- Accessible London.
- Anthropometrics in architectural design.
- Approved document M.
- Are electric bikes the future?
- Bin Blight.
- Built Environment Professional Education BEPE.
- Car sharing.
- Compact sustainable city.
- Design quality.
- Equality act.
- Equal opportunities policy.
- Inclusive design.
- Lifetime homes.
- Lifetime Homes Design Guide (EP 100).
- Lifetime neighbourhoods.
- Lifting platform.
- Making a house a home.
- Nationally described space standard.
- Older people.
- People with disabilities.
- Smart cities.
- Wheelchair platform stairlifts.
 External references
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